The WhatCounts Blog

Everything you need to know about smart, personalized email marketing.

Just Ask

We have said, time and again, that your email list is your most valuable marketing asset. Those email addresses, as long as they have been collected via opt-in, are digital gold. But here’s a question for you:

How are you acquiring your subscribers?

I’m not talking about the traffic acquisition channels you see in Google Analytics (referral, direct, search), nor am I talking about getting addresses via a pop-up or a sign-up widget on your homepage or an opt-in box on a purchase page. I’m talking about something even more informative for you as you gather intelligence about your marketing efforts: How have people even found you in the first place?

Seven months ago, we implemented a progressive opt-in form for the WhatCounts Weekly newsletter. (Sign up today!)

We use a progressive opt-in form to ask subscribers questions.

The first few questions are pure demographic information: First and last name, industry, whether or not the subscriber is a current customer. We ask these questions to allow for more personalized and segmented messages – if we have news about a shift in the email marketing landscape that drastically affects travel and tourism marketers, then we have a segment of our list ready to go and we can communicate with them directly, as opposed to communicating to our entire list and making marketers in the sports marketing industry ask, “What the heck is in this for me?” But what I feel is the most important part of this form is the final question: “How did you hear about WhatCounts?”

Note that this question isn’t answered via a drop-down, or with pre-made radio buttons. Those can be useful for collapsing information into a few buckets, but it’s also artificially constraining, because the odds are that question can be answered in more ways than you can think of. That’s certainly been the case for us.

For example, one person signed up for the newsletter and said she did so because she used WhatCounts Publicaster Edition at her previous employer (which was great news for our sales team). Other people have said that they found us through industry partners we work with (which helps reinforce the mutual value of those partnerships). Some have found us through popular blog posts that have been re-published on other websites (which helps us refine and hone our content strategy). Some have been referred by friends, others have simply wanted to learn how to whitelist an email. The long and the short of it is that we would never have gotten that intelligence with a drop-down menu. As I have said time and again, we are not our audience … but our audience is our greatest source of intelligence and feedback regarding the health of our marketing efforts.

The most important takeaway from this, however, is that we never would have gotten this information, this intelligence, this feedback without, you guessed it, asking. But by asking, we get, on a daily basis, a better idea of how people are finding us on the Internet – and this is information that not only allows us to refine our processes, but also to proactively identify gaps in those processes before they become gaping chasms.

Just ask. The worst they can say is “no.”

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

Helpful Hints for your Labor Day Emails

Let’s face it: There’s not a lot going on in August as far as holidays or celebrations. There are a few smaller observances, and you can certainly use these to create email messages. For example, August 21st celebrates Senior Citizens Day. This is an opportunity to segment your list by age and send a special offer to your older subscribers.

August may not have a lot of celebratory days to inspire email campaigns, but this slower business month is the perfect time to create smash-hit Labor Day emails. As you brainstorm ideas for your message’s design and copy, keep in mind these three tips.

#1 – Be creative with the subject line.

Subject lines of Labor Day email campaigns don’t vary much. “Labor Day” and “Sale” are almost always the main copy in the subject and body of the emails. Stand out in the inbox by writing a fun subject that still gets your point across.

In one of its Labor Day email subject lines, Wine Enthusiast said: 5 Simple Wine/Cheese Pairing Strategies and Sicilian Recipes For Your Labor Day Party.

It’s a little bit long for a subject line, but it doesn’t feel like a promotional punch in the face. Take the time to construct a creative, yet on-point subject line for your Labor Day campaign. Even something as simple as Happy Labor Day! works.

#2 – Be proactive – send in July.

Sending your Labor Day emails before the holiday hits is critical. It’s especially important for travel and hospitality companies. People want to plan their Labor Day trips at least two weeks before they travel. Sending them information about deals for the extra-long weekend a few weeks before the day is ideal. Or better yet…

#3 – Send a series of emails.

With the extra time in August, it’s worth the effort to set up two or three emails to send as a part of your Labor Day marketing strategy. If you’re hosting a sale or special deal running from a day in July up until September 1, promoting it several times via email will help grow conversions.

A great example of a Labor Day email campaign featuring all three of these elements is one from Hershey Park. On August 18, the brand sent this email with the subject line Make plans to visit Hershey Labor Day Weekend.

First email: Make plans to visit Hershey Labor Day Weekend

The first line of copy is actually a call-to-action, and it’s in a bold color that stands out from the rest of the copy. It also lists the reasons why you should visit the attraction: The special boardwalk feature isn’t open much longer and it’s a fun place to have a mini family vacation.

A discount is included, as well as upcoming park events and places to stay if you’re planning to enjoy the park for more than a day.

Hershey Park sends its second email in the series the day before the Labor Day holiday weekend. The subject line reads The Forecast in Hershey for Labor Day is SWEET!

2nd email: The Forecast in Hershey for Labor Day is SWEET!

My favorite part about this email is the simplicity of the weather graphic and the significant impact it has on subscribers. For those in farther parts of Pennsylvania or the tri-state area that may be experiencing less-then-perfect weather, the weather forecast at this theme park looks tempting.

Again, Hershey Park lists all the reasons why subscribers shouldn’t miss out on the park’s attractions. Answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” is an essential part of every email marketer’s job. Subscribers want to know the time they spend opening and reading an email will be well spent, and in this case, Hershey Park certainly delivers on the promise.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Tips for Saying Happy Birthday to Subscribers

Let’s talk about one of the easiest ways you can tell your subscribers you love them: Sending them a birthday email.

Recently having celebrated a birthday, I was curious to see how many brands whose emails I’m subscribed to would send me a celebratory message. Out of the 30 or more marketing emails I get, I received just two happy birthday messages, one the day before my birthday and the other five days after.

Why am I shocked by the lack of birthday messages? Some marketers only ask for birthday month information when a person opts in. However, to sign up for many of these emails, I’ve had to enter my month and date of birth information, in addition to my name and email address. Marketers, if you’re asking me for this information, then use it to send me personalized, relevant messages. Not one day early, not five days late; on the correct day with an appropriate offer.

For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow

Have fun with the content of a birthday email. This isn’t a regularly sent campaign, so you can scribble outside the lines a little. And don’t forget the most important part of the message – the present!

ESPN gives the gift of a laugh and free shipping to its birthday subscribers. Subject: Happy Birthday from ESPN!

Happy birthday from ESPN!

Urban Outfitters goes festive with some doodles and a percent-off discount in the birthday email it sends. Subject: You Say It’s Your Birthday…

So you say it's your birthday...

Virgin Atlantic adds mystery and suspense to its members’ birthday emails with a fun message and a surprise gift. Subject: On your Birthday, the Sky’s the Limit

On Your Birthday, the Sky's the Limit


Number one rule for a birthday email’s content? Include the person’s first name in the subject line or content of the email. You have the data, it’s easy for you to include, and if there’s any time when personalization hits home with a subscriber, it’s on his or her birthday.

What Day Is It?

There’s no way you or I could remember every single subscriber’s birthdays. This is where automation helps us out as marketers. Set up auto-response campaigns to send your birthday emails out to the right person on the right day. Trigger your birthday email to send to subscribers when their birthday rolls around. Need help setting up an auto-response campaign? Just ask us – we can walk you through the steps.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Do Away With Your Monday Morning Marketing Blues

Got the Monday morning marketing blues? Fear not—we’ve hand-picked some of the best articles on the web from the last week or so to fire up your Monday morning.

Beat the Monday morning marketing blues

KISSmetrics: Headline Psychology: 8 Tricks to Attract User Attention

Everyone likes a good surprise, right? Well, turns out most people like the surprise factor when it comes to headlines, too. This article by KISSmetrics reviews eight ways (including the surprise tactic) you can grab readers’ attention by way of your email or article headline.

Business2Community: 3 Tactics to Graduate Your Email Marketing to the Next Level

You know the expression, “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery?” Well, that kind of applies to email marketing—it’s constantly evolving. If what worked for your email strategy in the past isn’t working quite as well for you presently, it’s time to graduate your email marketing strategy. This helpful article offers three tactics to upgrade your email marketing today.

ClickZ: Connect, Engage, Collaborate: People-Centric Engagement in a Digital World

The increase in authority of mobile and social technologies effectively means everything you do as a marketer needs to be focused on engagement. In other words, it’s time to get familiar with personalization and value-driven content. This article serves up some great ideas to incorporate into your marketing strategy.

Hubspot: TMI? How to Personalize Your Emails Without Being Creepy

How much is too much? If you’ve ever found yourself wondering where and when to draw the line on personalization in your emails, this blog post is a must read.


Don’t forget to join WhatCounts’ Inbound Marketing Manager, Tim Brechlin, and Director of Strategic Services, Lauren Bell, next week on Wednesday, July 23 at 2 p.m. ET as they bust some of the most common email marketing myths, explore test cases, and answer some of your most burning questions. Register today!

Victoria Lopiano
Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts

How to Overhaul Your Content in 3 Steps

Get ready to overhaul your content!Stuck in a rut with your marketing campaigns? It may be time for an overhaul. Taking the time to work three habits into your marketing routine will enliven your current campaigns and keep them fresh.

Follow these three steps to overhaul your content and jumpstart your marketing.

1. Consistently consider your campaign numbers.

Just as a pilot trusts the instruments on his control panel to navigate the plane, so marketers should trust their metrics to help them steer campaigns. The first step to overhaul your content is identifying what’s working and what’s not working by looking at the numbers.

Gather metrics from all your channels. Look at the email metrics for every message you send, including opens, clicks, CTOR and unsubscribes. What types of Tweets and LinkedIn posts are seeing the most engagement, comments and likes? Dig into Google Analytics to understand what landing pages are performing well and which ones aren’t.

Frequency matters. When should you be looking at your channels to see how well your content is doing? Weekly, to find any immediate areas you need to improve. Monthly, to view recent trends. Yearly, to understand the overall performance of your content on a larger scale.

Make necessary changes. It’s pointless to spend time measuring all these channels if you’re not going to apply changes where they’re needed. Watch the upward trends in metrics to see what articles, offers, and calls-to-action your readers respond to the most. Insert this type of content into your editorial calendar so you use it often.

2. Do something different.

Don’t think you have time to try something new? Commit to implementing one small change a week: One A/B test, one email design change, one landing page optimization. On the other hand, don’t make more than one change on one channel at one time. For example, don’t change the layout and copy of your email at the same time. If your click-to-open-rate improves, you won’t know which part to give credit to.

Prioritize the changes you want to make and test them one at a time.

You don’t have to be married to these changes, but you must be committed to analyzing the results of them. Just because you like including pictures of the family pet in your email campaigns doesn’t mean your audience does and vice versa. Stick with the changes that show a positive reaction from your readers; ditch the ones that don’t.

3. Ask your audience what they want.

The worst they could say is no. There are countless tools available for gathering feedback from your audience. Send an email asking subscribers to take a survey. Ask for feedback via your most popular social media site. Create a contest or drawing for those who offer responses. Most importantly, be willing to accept honest – and sometimes harsh – feedback. Use what you learn from these responses to overhaul your content.

There’s no shame in asking an outside expert step in and help with the overhaul of content. In fact, because this person isn’t laser-focused on your campaigns every day, he or she will be able to offer a fresh perspective. If you don’t have an expert on hand, our strategy team can help you with all the steps to overhaul your content.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Christmas Emails in July

Prep your Christmas emails in July!It may seem as if summer just started, but before you know it, vacations will be over, school will be starting again, and the fall and winter holidays will be here. Don’t want to rush into things like you have in the past? Use the lazy days of summer (hint: now) to strategize, plan content, and sync your marketing channels with your email campaigns.

Start by looking at last year’s numbers. Figure out what email campaigns did the best last year. Compare opens, clicks and click-to-open metrics. Ponder what made the most successful email campaigns popular with subscribers. Contests, colors, calls-to-action – whatever floated the boat for your readers last year may be a great idea to pursue this year.

Take the ideas you’ve gathered from the numbers and translate it to your editorial calendar. Yes, click all the way down to the last months of Q4 and punch in what email campaigns you’re going to send, what content those emails will contain, and what segments of your list are going to receive each one.

And while you’re poking around in there, add the frequency of when you’ll send each campaign. If there are campaigns you want to A/B test (do it!), make sure you schedule enough time for those tests to run. Mapping out the date and times of when each email needs to send will keep your team on the same page and help you stay in control during the busy holiday season.

The slow summer months are a perfect time to optimize your email templates for mobile. With mobile email opens surpassing desktop, it’s essential email marketers use responsive design in order to see the most ROI on their campaigns. If people can’t view your offer on their mobile devices, they’re most likely going to abandon your message. Stop waving good-bye to more money, and re-design your templates for mobile. Make your messages even smarter by using time-based, location-based, and device-based personalization. Our partner Movable Ink rocks this stuff.

Since you’re in the optimizing mode, make your preference center shine. Are you gathering all the information from subscribers you need for holiday-season segmentations? Collecting date of birth and gender information helps you pool people into categories of young, old, male and female. Even these basic groups can boost your holiday email targeting.

Most importantly, ensure your email deliverability is up to snuff. There’s no use sending a message if it’s not going to be delivered. If you’re not already, make sure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant, with a physical address and obvious opt-out link. Only send to people who signed up to receive your emails, as this will give you the highest engagement numbers and build your credibility with ISPs. Hard work on the deliverability front now will pay off when you send those ROI-producing holiday campaigns later.

Final tip: Don’t procrastinate. It’s easy to let the slow days of summer roll by, but don’t jeopardize the impact of your holiday campaigns by waiting to think about them.

Happy Christmas in July!

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


6 Digital Marketing Articles to Read Now

Get the news with these digital marketing articles.Need a digital marketing pick-me-up? These articles from the past week or so is the medicine the doctor ordered. Get different perspectives about email, deliverability, design and more with these digital marketing articles.

ClickZ: Is Email Innovation an Oxymoron? No! Here’s Why

Design Taxi: Google Unveils ‘Material Design’ Update Across Android, Chrome & The Web

The Daily Egg: The Surprising Secret to Higher Email Open Rates

Return Path: Spamhaus DBL Changes Coming – What List Users Need to Know

Search Engine Watch: Google Tries to Steal How-To Traffic in Organic Search Results

Fast Company: Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling In Marketing

Last but not least, don’t forget tomorrow, Canada’s Anti-Spam Law goes into effect, with massive fines dealt out to those who aren’t in compliance. Eek, scary! Don’t subject yourself to the messiness of this legislation; make it a priority to get your email marketing ready.

First, download and read The Email Marketer’s Ultimate Checklist for Canada’s Anti-Spam Law. If you have additional questions, skip over to our most recent blog post answering specific questions from email marketers.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Just Get Weird With It

Many moons ago, before I joined the WhatCounts team, I was actually a WhatCounts client, working in the travel and tourism world. About eight or nine months into my tenure at that past life,  we were having some engagement issues with one of our newsletters, so I had a phone call with my Strategic Account Manager, Sean McGarry (who is still with WhatCounts today), to discuss ways we could turn our email marketing program up to 11. We discussed it from every angle, looking at micro- and macro-level factors, but one piece of advice he gave me immediately stuck in my mind, and it’s shaped my career as a marketer ever since: “Just get weird with it, man.”

Sean wasn’t telling me to start writing emails in Sanskrit or sending them with a From address of Bugs Bunny, of course. What he was telling me was to not be afraid to mix things up a bit, to just try little things here and there, to throw spaghetti noodles at the wall and see what stuck.

It’s commonly believed that you should send your newsletters either around the lunch hour or in the mid-afternoon, because that’s when people are taking a break at their desks or wrapping up for the day. (I know that my inbox explodes around 10 or 11 a.m. Eastern Time.) But that’s conventional wisdom, and sometimes conventional wisdom isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on – if everyone’s sending their newsletters around the lunch hour or in the mid-afternoon, isn’t the inbox only going to be more cluttered, meaning your chances of being noticed as someone triages their inbox on their phone get even smaller? Instead, try a 168-hour metered send and see what day and time works for you.

If you’re having trouble getting engagement with your brand, just get a little weird with how you’re promoting yourself. Some readers may remember a webinar we presented in January, introducing viewers to the brand-new WhatCounts Publicaster Edition user interface. I happened to be working in my home office on that day, and at one point during the webinar, one of my cats wandered over and made his presence known … loudly. Immediately, a flood of questions came into the GoToWebinar Q&A panel: “Is that a cat?” “Do you have a cat on the marketing team?” “Is he your mascot?”


It evolved into a running joke on the WhatCounts marketing team, and now we’re at the point that people are asking us on social media when the “Marketing Cat” is going to make his next appearance. Sometimes, a happy accident rolls along – don’t be afraid to just run with it and see what happens.

Ultimately, you aren’t going to win by doing what everyone else is doing. The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous nowadays, and the attention spans just aren’t there. Instead of following the leader and taking your examples from others … just get weird with it.

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

Storming the CASL: Last-minute questions from concerned marketers

Storming the CASLAs many marketers already know, the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is set to take effect on July 1. For anyone who’s counting, that’s just one week away!

If you’re like most senders we know, your CASL preparations are already well underway and you’ve taken full advantage of our CASL resources. Even so, you may need some last-minute advice before the law goes into full force – and you’re not alone. We’ve gotten lots of questions from senders who want to make sure they’re compliant, and this post will address some of the more common threads.

As always, nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice. We know deliverability, but we’re no lawyers!

If we don’t receive confirmation of opt-in by July 1, can we continue sending our emails?

In a word? No. CASL requires an opt-in to send a user any sort of commercial electronic email (CEM). If you do not have consent (either express or implied) from a user by July 1, sending them any CEM would be a violation of CASL and subject you to some pretty harsh penalties.

What if someone has published their contact info on a website? Can I email them?

Yes and no. CASL does technically allow you to email someone whose email address is made publicly available (such as on a website) and does not include wording that they do not want email, as long as the email relates directly to their role or business. However, WhatCounts (and most Email Service Providers) will not allow this as the mail is not permission-based.

We have been emailing these contacts for (weeks/months/years), do we have implied consent to continue mailing them?

Not necessarily. Under CASL, implied consent means the user has an “existing business relationship” with your organization. This typically means they made a purchase or some other financial transaction. Implied consent is not affected by whether the recipient has received previous emails.

The CASL requirements dictate implied consent expires after two years in most cases (three years during the initial transition period). However, the best practice would be to request express consent at the point of purchase (or prior to July 1) to minimize the risk of legal challenges.

We often get consent via phone. If we don’t record phone calls, can this be considered valid express consent?

It can be, but it will be difficult to prove. The opt-in would have to be CASL compliant, which means the phone representative who gets the email address would have to state clearly to the customer he or she is requesting commercial emails and he or she can unsubscribe at any time. Without a recording of the call, there’s no way to prove these statements were made, or to prove the customer gave the email address exactly as it is logged in your system.

What information is needed to prove consent?

Unfortunately, we can’t answer this question. This would be subject to legal interpretation by Canadian authorities in the event of a complaint. However, we strongly recommend you log the following information:

  • Date and time of opt-in (all)
  • URL of the page where the opt-in occurred (web)
  • IP address used by the person submitting the request (web)
  • Recording of the phone conversation, including all CASL-required elements (phone)
  • Hard copy of the sign-up sheet or form used to opt-in (paper)

As the first major anti-spam law that actually requires consent, CASL is designed to change the way marketers send electronic messaging. The primary purpose of the law is to encourage marketers to get express consent to send commercial mailings. While CASL does allow some provisions of implied consent for parties with existing business relationships, that implied consent is only temporary and could always be subject to legal challenges. The safest way to avoid running into CASL issues is to get clear, CASL-compliant, express consent before you begin to send promotional mail.

Download The Email Marketer’s Ultimate Checklist for Canada’s Anti-Spam Law to help you get ready for the coming updates.

If you have any additional questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to contact the WhatCounts Support team for assistance.

Brad Gurley
Director of Deliverability, WhatCounts

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From the Blog

Learn digital marketing tips, tricks and strategies from some of our top blog posts:

The ABCs of Email Testing: Learn about top strategies for testing your emails.

5 Easy Tips to Make Your Subject Lines Stand Out: Get noticed in the inbox with these subject line tips.

The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do: Keep your email marketing program healthy by following this one, easy-to-do tip.